Polar bear groups on patrol in Russia’s northeast



Posted on 21 August 2006  | 
Vankarem, Russia – In an effort to reduce human-wildlife conflict in Russia’s northeast, locals are taking matters into their own hands to control polar bear populations.

Local people from the coastal village of Vankarem in Chukotka, Russia’s farthest northeast region on the shores of the Bering Sea, have created a unique “bear group” with support from WWF-Russia to patrol and monitor polar bears during their winter migration season, which lasts from September to January.

Because the village of Vankarem lies on the path of the polar bear’s migration route, they often come in close contact, and in conflict, with humans. In January this year, for example, a young girl from a neighbouring village was killed in a polar bear attack.

The fatality, as well as other incidents, led village locals, together with the Association of the Native Peoples of the North, to create a four-person bear team to patrol the surrounding areas and ward off any potential polar bears that come too close to town. They are also mandated to protect a large walrus rookery in the area.

“It is very important that the bear group initiative comes from the local people themselves,” said Viktor Nikiforov, Director of WWF-Russia’s regional programmes.

“Native people who deal with the human-polar bear conflict have the best idea of what they need to protect themselves and their natural resources.”

Under a Russian-American agreement on polar bear management in Chukotka and Alaska, a limited quota for polar bear hunting by native people is in the works. The newly-organized bear groups will help in monitoring those quotas, especially as more than 100 polar bears are being illegally hunted throughout many coastal villages in Russia’s Far East.

END NOTES:

• The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is the world’s largest terrestrial carnivore, measuring more than 2.5m in length and weighing around 800kg. They can be found in northern Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Norway and Russia.

• Although polar bears are not currently endangered, scientists believe that polar bears may disappear within 100 years as a result of over-hunting, habitat loss and climate change. Toxic chemicals transported to the Arctic from the south also have long-term effects on polar bear health and longevity, while oil exploration in the Arctic affects polar bears by fragmenting and disturbing their habitat further, and by introducing oil and other toxic substances to their environment. In addition, rising temperatures in the southern Arctic may mean less sea ice, leading to less healthy polar bears. Reduced body condition can lead to lower reproduction rates, which in the long run could lead to local extinction. This situation is expected to extend to other parts of the Arctic given current climate change scenarios.

For further information:
Viktor Nikiforov, Regional Programmes Director
WWF-Russia
Tel: +7 495 727 0939
E-mail: vnikiforov@wwf.ru

Daria Kudryavtseva, Press Officer
WWF-Russia
E-mail:dkudryavtseva@wwf.ru

The creation of a "bear group" by local villagers in Russia's Far East will ward off any potential polar bears that come too close to town.
© WWF-Canon / François Pierrel Enlarge

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